Joey Barton: What Do Marseille Fans Really Think About Him?

Joey Barton’s move to Marseille has made a lot more noise than the last time an Englishman went on loan to a Ligue Une club. But what do French football fans think about the controversial footballer’s hop across the Channel?
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Joey Barton’s move to Marseille has made a lot more noise than the last time an Englishman went on loan to a Ligue Une club. But what do French football fans think about the controversial footballer’s hop across the Channel?

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Joey Barton’s move to Marseille from QPR has made a lot more noise than the last time an Englishman went on loan to a Ligue Une club. But what do French football fans think about the controversial footballer’s hop across the Channel?

Joey Barton, for all of his football skills was only famous in France and Marseille for his atrocious behavior, both on and off the pitch, most notably for his long procedural affair with once famous French footballer Ousmane Dabo. Now that the beast has landed, let’s try to understand what the move could mean for fans.

Is he welcome in Marseille?

I was on a weekend trip with a few Marseille fans when the first rumor emerged in the newspapers. Their first reaction was joy mixed with doubts about the possibility of such a deal. They felt no fear at all, no worries about the stability of their squad nor any question about the player’s desire to come to Marseille.

Marseille loves tough players. The club’s history speaks for itself, recently, Lorik Cana and Gabriel Heinze, were amongst the fan favorites (almost) only thanks to their aggression and devotion on the pitch. Barton is from the same mould, he is a fighter who simply loves playing football. This attitude is surely a plus to get the local fans backing you up from the start.

Last Saturday, when he was presented to the fans before the game against Rennes kicked off, fans from the Commando Ultra 84 unrolled a promptly made up banner saying: Welcome “sweet and tender hooligan” in reference to a song by The Smiths. Another one saying: “Barton you are Dabo-lic!” came out later in the evening. This has to be considered as an acceptance sign for somebody who might not make his debut before November.

Marseille loves tough players. The club’s history speaks for itself, recently, Lorik Cana and Gabriel Heinze, were amongst the fan favorites (almost) only thanks to their aggression and devotion on the pitch.

Is he going to fit in the squad?

Following a terrible season last year, mainly due to their best players going off the boil, surprisingly  Marseille enjoyed one of their quieter summer breaks. Élie Baup came in as coach for Didier Deschamps, decided to retain the core of their side despite their 10th place finish. Some unwanted players were sold to cover for the cash they won’t receive in Champions League bonuses this year - holding midfielder Alou Diarra was sold to West Ham and Baup attempted to get rid of the well-paid Stephane M’Bia but failed to receive any serious offers.

French referees have a serious reputation of being strict. Very strict

In late July, Willie Mc Kay, Barton’s agent and an omnipresent force in Anglo-Gallic deals, told Vincent Labrune that he should be hiring the bad boy. While Marseille’s chairman did not reject the deal outright, he first insisted on QPR buying M’Bia before any deal can go through. The prospective deal went all the way up to the dying hours of the transfer deadline before eventually going through, with Barton giving the world a play by play of proceedings via Twitter.

Barton will bring experience to a relatively young team, boasting almost 250 games in the Premier League, despite his numerous suspensions. The team needs a moral leader like Barton to keep up the spirit who led Marseille to the top of the table after 4 games. There is definitely room for him in the Marseille midfield line alongside Cheyrou and Valbuena who, while more technically skilled are a bit reluctant to get on with the dirty defensive job.

Is it a canny commercial coup?

The outlook is good for the end of year balance at Marseille. Selling a player for €6million, getting a replacement for free and only half a salary to pay is going to bringing a smile back on the accountant’s face. Marseille is the most popular club amongst us snail eaters club and sell the most shirts, year in year out, regardless the latest crazy design they reveal. A replica with the Barton name tagged in the back will surely be a hit with the largest ultra community in the country.

Then there’s Joey’s Twitter dependence feeding the papers with crunchy bits. Plenty of advertising campaigns will appear in cascade following his arrival, especially while he remains banned. However, as all my insiders said, the less we talk about Marseille the better it is. Marseille like PSG and Saint-Etienne is a former French giant trying to get back to the top. The Barton element might eventually be an obstacle to the club’s progression.

Is he going to be in trouble with French referees?

Perhaps the most pertinent point with Marseille fans. French referees have a serious reputation of being strict. Very strict.  The game on this side of the channel is a lot more tactical and technical than physical as it is in England (Trust me, I played in your amateur leagues for years.). A single misjudged tackle can be all it takes for an early bath. Red cards could be flying and could be detrimental to both the player and the club.

Barton will bring experience to a relatively young team, boasting almost 250 games in the Premier League, despite his numerous suspensions.

This is a more interesting point when you take into account the Krupoviesa precedent. The Argentinean left back came to Marseille from Boca Juniors in 2008 with a solid reputation as a rough defender. French media emphasized it before he was offered a first appearance. Come his debut, opponents made a point to rile him until the red mist descended and he launched into a slide tackle which led to a direct red card. The French media went wild, and he only played a handful of other games before flying back to Buenos Aires.

In a nutshell?

Barton, while an experienced and talented players, doesn’t really need to be provoked to do stupid things. French referees and the ensuing media sensation could jeopardize the whole experience. But if he is true to his word and keeps on his best behavior like he claimed he has and the Marseille staff handles him correctly, it could be a real success story.

Special thanks to my Marseille insiders for their valuable point of view on this topic: Julien Chaudron, Remi Chretien and Mathieu Coquet

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